Luxurious, elegant and comfortable, chaises
lounges found their way into the hearts and the parlours of the Victorian and Edwardian middle classes.
The French term 'chaise longue', or
lounge, literally long chair, was first used in the middle of the 18th century, but the idea of a piece of furniture on which you could recline during the day goes back a century further, to the time when bedrooms were first formally separated from the rest of the house.
These day-beds took the form of an elongated seat supported by six to eight legs. The seat and end were often of woven cane, with
perhaps a thin mattress for extra comfort. As time wore on, the look of the day-bed varied with fashions in chair design.
By 18oo, the term chaise lounge was in common use, but it was no longer thought of as a type of chair. It had acquired a back that ran either the full length of the piece or stopped halfway down it. The head was upright, or raked for more comfort. The head, back and body of the piece were all fully upholstered and, from the 1830s on, were more and more likely to be sprung.
Regency examples were likely to have a foot as well as a head. An outward scroll at the head was balanced by one at the foot, while the legs curved downwards and outwards. The fashion-conscious thought of this as the Grecian style, though Egyptian motifs appeared alongside the classical ones.
The basic look did not change for the next century or so, though mid-Victorian pieces tended to have a single, high end and a tall, exaggerated back. Chaises longues had their heyday in the late Victorian and Edwardian periods. They were popular furniture for the dining room, the drawing room, the library and any other room where people enjoyed the fruits of a leisured lifestyle.
With their long, low lines and plush, sprung upholstery, Edwardian chaises
lounges were an enticing invitation to a life of ease and luxury. The rules of etiquette had changed so that it was permissible for both men and women to lounge around in their homes, and no middle-class drawing room would be without at least one chaise
Victorian chaises lounges tend to be heavy pieces, with ornately carved frames. They were either part-upholstered or, more usually, stuffed-over, sometimes with deep buttoning. The most common woods used were walnut and mahogany, with velvet upholstery.
Edwardian chaises lounges tend to be lighter in weight, with less carving, and have straight, turned legs set on castors. Real or imitation leather were popular for upholstery, as were patterned fabrics. When new, they were sold either singly or with a set of six matching
side chairs and two armchairs.
Edwardian pieces are probably better suited to modern-day homes than earlier ones. Both types can be found at large and small auctions and at antiques and second-hand furniture dealers. Although the main determinant of price is the piece's attractiveness, your main considerations when buying should be whether it fits harmoniously with your home and how comfortable it is; the chaise
lounge has survived as long as it has mainly because it's a supreme piece of lounging furniture, ideal for relaxing, reading or watching TV.